HAVE ANY CHANGE YOU CAN SPARE? – RICH PASCHALL

Begging on the city streets, Rich Paschall

It was a particularly nice evening for this time of year. The temperature has been known to be brutal when the calendar reaches this point of winter, but this night was different. People walked as if the wind was not pushing them along. For a town known as “The Windy City,” there was barely any wind at all. A few people were standing about in front of sports bars, having a smoke or talking about this year’s football disaster. There was no reason to hurry inside.

A parking spot was waiting for me across the street from my destination. It was not the Wild West Restaurant and Sports Bar from the short story series from last year, but in my mind it was close enough. I was ready to order some food that I probably should not have, but I thought I would just forget the word “cholesterol” for a while.

72-homeless-analog-OnTheRoad_007As I crossed the street I noticed a man and woman walking down the sidewalk at a pace to intercept me at the corner. They passed up people smoking or chatting or both and headed straight for me. They were middle-aged, whatever that actually means, and rather poorly dressed. By that I mean, their clothes were worn and a bit dirty. They did not look grizzled as so many street people do, but rather just tired and run down.

“Do you have any change you can spare?” the man asked. The woman looked at me as if she was hopeful I would give a positive response.

“I don’t know,” I said honestly as I shoved my hands in my pockets to find out. At that the man launched into a story of their personal problems. He told me they had a streak of bad luck in recent years. They both had lost their jobs a few years back and eventually lost all they had.

Now they were living on the street and just trying to survive. He added a few details about their lives and capped it off by saying that his wife lost or had her identification stolen and that made their situation more difficult.

In my left pocket were a few coins which totaled just under a dollar. I handed it to the man but thought I could not let it go at that. In the past when I saw people begging at street corners, I thought they could turn things around for themselves if they just knew where to go and who to see.  A little information might be all they need, so I thought I would do my best to pass some along.

“Do you know the church with the big clock tower down the street? You can see it when you get to the top of the bridge?” I pointed down the road toward St. Benedict’s. The impressive clock tower could be seen from a long distance down the road.

The man knew exactly what I was about to say. Yes, he knew the church and he did stop there on weekdays for lunch. If anyone came to the rectory during the week begging for food at lunch time (or much of the day), they provided some lunch. They were prepared and ready to give out something as begging had become a common occurrence in recent years.

The man then proceeded to tell me, in case I had a need to know, of other churches that would give them food. They knew where to go and on what days in order to get something. I guess it is nice to know the churches are responsive, as some of my Republican friends don’t feel this is the government’s job, but I was surprised to hear his list. The shocking part, in my opinion, is that we are not in a poor neighborhood.  In fact, the land around St. Benedict’s itself is highly desirable and the property values are quite high.

How many of those upwardly mobile professionals know that so people are living on the streets and in the parks and under the viaducts nearby?

Undeterred in my efforts to hand out useful information, I asked the couple if they knew where the Salvation Army was located. I said they might be able to help them get back on their feet. They could certainly provide shelter in an emergency as the winter could get quite severe. They had a general idea where they were located, but they were skeptical that this was a good idea. So at that, I offered up information on The Night Ministry. This organization will go around in search of people needing help, especially on below freezing nights. They did not know it but said they would keep it in mind.

As they prepared to go, I told them to try to stay warm. They then told me they knew a few people who froze to death last year when we had many days of subzero weather. I encouraged them to remember the shelters when the weather gets worse. They said they would and moved on

I doubted they would use a shelter no matter how cold it got. How do people go from living a normal life to adapting to life on the street?  How is it they become so set in this lifestyle, they would not use the help to get off the streets, even when they have information on how to do it? Is the real world just so tough for some that living on the streets is a viable option? The thought lingered as I moved inside for chicken wings and sports.

TRUST IN GOD, BUT TIE YOUR CAMEL

DAILY PROMPT: IN GOOD FAITH

I’ve come a long way since I originally wrote this. It’s interesting, like mental time travel. You get to see who you were “back then” versus who you are today.

Life changes. Change is the only constant in our world. Change can be good, but as we age, it tends to be … well … difficult.

72-FebSunrise_06

I broke my back when I was a kid. I was reconstructed when I was 19. For the next 35 years, I refused to pay any attention to my spine. I was not going to be disabled. Not me. It was mind over matter. But, it turns out, mind over matter only takes you so far.

I began to have trouble walking. My balance became erratic. I lost sensation in my feet and miscellaneous reflexes disappeared. I went to doctors. All of whom said I needed a new spinal fusion, the old one having fallen apart.

That explanation and solution made no sense to me. After surgery, I’d be in more pain. My spine would be stable, but spinal instability was not my problem. My problem was pain and stiffness with the accompanying limited mobility.

I believe in miracles because I’ve experienced a couple of them. Nonetheless, I don’t count on them. If you could count on them, they wouldn’t be miracles, now would they? In lieu of prayer, I took my case to the top spine guy in Boston.

He said I did not need surgery, nor would it solve the problems I was having. (See? I was right.) “Ignore my colleagues’ scare tactics,” he said. “Your back got you through this far. It’ll take you the rest of the way. Pain control, gentle exercise, and recognize your limits. Don’t do anything stupid.” Like fall off a horse? Lift heavy packages?

Since then, there has been so much more yet finally, I’m beginning to feel better. My back isn’t better. That’s not going to happen, but the rest of me is beginning to feel — younger.

Faith can help get you through times of trouble, but faith in what, exactly? Yourself? Your loved ones? Your friends? It need not be a deity (though I often think it would be nice to really believe that someone was watching out for me from on high), but faith in something, that there’s a future worth living. That’s a big part of getting through life-threatening stuff.

Faith is a tool, not an all-purpose band-aid. You don’t apply faith like a salve and it heals all ills. Contrary to popular mythology, it does not mean you don’t have to take care of yourself, nor will it make you young again, or stop your joints from aching. It won’t pay your mortgage or make you immortal, but it can offer you a context in which to see yourself and your problems, make you realize that you really do have something to live for. That is no small thing when the going gets very rough.

After a lot of intellectual dodging and weaving on the subject, I believe there is something, but I have no idea what. I don’t believe we have individual guardian angels looking out for us. It would be nice, but ridiculous. Nor I am not willing to commit to nothingness. To suggest I know the answers would be an extraordinary act of hubris. So I’ll let others duke it out on the details while I remain unaffiliated.

Meanwhile, whoever or whatever has helped me get this far, I’d very much appreciate it if that Force would stay with me.

THE ASS END OF LIFE – CREATION, DESTRUCTION, AND A CAT

Patricia was a silver-tipped Persian cat. Although she was not an outdoor cat, she managed to slip past us where her fans, the local toms, were eagerly waiting for her. She was unspayed because I had hoped to breed her. She apparently harbored the same hope, but had her own ideas about who would father the next generation.

On local roads ...

Not surprisingly, Patricia (she was so patrician) showed up pregnant. It was not the first unplanned pregnancy among our felines, nor would it be the last. Fortunately, we had plenty of friends who were more than happy to adopt one of Patricia’s progeny, purebred or not. When her day came, it turned out she was carrying only one enormous kitten who barely survived delivery. Breathing, yes. But that was all. Too weak to nurse and likely doomed. Patricia was fine, but utterly uninterested in the entire business.

A friend and his girlfriend were visiting at the time. She and I were fussing over the kitten, trying to convince it to nurse, or take a little formula from a doll-sized bottle. It wasn’t going well. Patricia was ignoring her kitten, a sure sign she did not believe her offspring could live.

Bob commented: “That kitten is going to die. Don’t get all weepy about this. Death is just the ass end of life.”

dark cemetary

It’s so many years later I can’t even count the decades, but that really stuck in my head. “Death is the ass end of life.” Not very romantic, but then again, there’s nothing romantic about death. It’s the final part of the cycle of life. Beginnings, endings, and there’s some stuff in the middle.

I have not died yet (what, you didn’t notice?) but I fully expect the day will come. Maybe sooner rather than later. I always hope for the best, but you can only play dodge’em with Death so many times until he outwits you.

Meanwhile, a few observations.

It’s not just that every creature born will die. It is that everything ever created — by nature or man — will eventually disintegrate. End. Stop working. Disappear. Need replacement. From your expensive kitchen appliances, to the even more expensive car you drive, to the pyramids in the Nile Valley. The trees and the flowers in the garden. From the day of creation onward, everyone and everything is marching to a final destruction.

Let’s not worry about the future so much. Despite what happens along our individual paths, our end will be the same regardless. The ass end of life awaits. I plan to have as many laughs as I can on the way.


CREATION AND DESTRUCTION – The Blacklight Candelabra

For the inaugural writing prompt, I am challenging you to discuss the interrelatedness of creation and destruction.

These are prompts for those of us who would appreciate prompts which are more of a challenge than those offered by WordPress. This is the first of what I hope will be many!

THE TEEPEE – I REMEMBER

Once upon a time, I built a teepee. I painted the door and filled it with things I loved. I made the poles, sanded each by hand, peeling the bark from the 16-foot saplings we had cut in our own woods.

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Then I wrote a book about building it, and about life, transformation, and other things, some funny, some sad, some just whatever. The manuscript for The 12-Foot Teepee took me about 7 months to write, about as much time to edit, then a few more months to design the cover and book. Getting it published, well … that’s another story.

This was my teepee.

It stood, through all seasons, for five years. Through snow and ice, drenching rain, hurricanes and hale, it stayed solidly anchored. This past summer, we realized the poles had rotted through. They could no longer support the canvas. And the canvas itself was mildewed and tears had appeared in various places. Its time was done. We took it down.

You can find the book on Amazon, both as a paperback and in Kindle format. It is The 12-Foot Teepee,  by Marilyn Armstrong.  My life has moved on considerably since then but writing it was a turning point in my life.

And for the years the teepee was mine, it was the one place in the world in which I always felt safe and at peace. I will always miss it. It was also the only space I’ve ever known which was entirely, completely, absolutely mine.


Oasis – A sanctuary is a place you can escape to, to catch your breath and remember who you are. Write about the place you go to when everything is a bit too much.

KINDERGARTEN – THAT FIRST DAY

September 1951.

1952 with my brother

1951 with my brother

I am probably the youngest kid in the class. I’m only four, but somehow, here I am. I’m certainly the smallest. Everyone seems so big. I don’t know it yet, but I will always be either the shortest or next to the shortest kid in every class for the next six years. The school looks huge. Monstrous. Many years later, when I come back to visit, it will be tiny, a miniature school. Even the steps are half the height of normal.

But I don’t know about stairs yet because kindergarten is on the ground floor. They don’t want the little kids getting run down by bigger ones.

The windows go all the way to the ceiling, which is very high. To open or close them, Mrs. O’Rourke has to use an enormous hook-on-a-pole. I wonder why they don’t have normal windows like we have at home. Our windows open by turning a crank; anyone, even I, can open them.

The teacher is kind of old. She’s got frizzy grey hair. She talks loud and slow. Does she think I’m stupid? Everyone in my family talks loud, but no one talks slow.

Now it’s nap time. We are supposed to put our blankets on the floor and go to sleep, but I don’t nap. I haven’t taken a nap ever, or at least not that I can remember. And anyway, I don’t have a blanket because my mother didn’t know I was supposed to bring one. I also don’t have a shoe box for my crayons. All the other kids have them. I wish I had one because I feel weird being the only one without a blanket and a shoe box.

Worse yet, I don’t have crayons. I wish I had some. The ones everyone can use are broken and colors no one likes. My mother didn’t know what I was supposed to bring. She’s busy. I just got a new sister who cries all the time and mommy didn’t have time to come to school and find out about all this stuff.

So I sit in a chair and wait, being very quiet, while every one is napping. I don’t think they are really asleep, but everyone goes and lays down on the floor on a blanket and pretends. It give Mrs. O’Rourke time to write things in her book.

It’s a long day. I have almost a mile to walk home. Mommy doesn’t drive and anyway, she doesn’t worry about me. She knows I’ll find my way. It’s only that it’s all uphill. I’m tired. Why do I have to do this stuff?

By the time I know the answer, it won’t matter any more. School has become the ordinary stuff of life and why no longer applies.


First! – Tell us about your first day at something — your first day of school, first day of work, first day living on your own, first day blogging, first day as a parent, whatever.

Note this is a rerun — a double rerun having been first a weekly writing challenge, then a daily prompt. This is my original response to the Weekly Writing Challenge. I don’t see why I can’t rerun the answers if WordPress is going to keep rerunning the questions. Besides, I like this piece. And I love the picture. Little me with the fuzzy hair and my big brother.

IN SEARCH OF PEACE ON EARTH

The Same Auld Lang Syne, by Rich Paschall

Another year has begun and we can see it is indeed the same as days gone by.  The old days are not forgotten as old conflicts rage on and new ones have arisen.  If old acquaintances happen to be forgotten as one year passes into another, old hatred, old disputes, old border wars, old and new religious battles carry on as if they will forever be remembered.  Are these disagreements worth the killing of men, women and children standing on the other side?

In our neighborhood, just as in many around the world we conclude our year wishing “Peace on Earth, Good Will Toward Men.”  It is on our greeting cards and in our songs.  It appears in Christmas stories and is heard from pulpits and lecterns around the world. The invocations I read to those assembled at noon mass at our church on Christmas Day included a call for world leaders to truly seek world peace.  For this intention I said to the congregation, “We pray to the Lord.”  They responded to my prayer by rote, as we have the same response to all our intentions, “Lord hear our prayer.”

The Lord may hear our prayer but I think He surely means for us to work at resolving the conflicts that plague the world.  I am not convinced many really heard the intention or remembered it by the time they hit the pavement an hour later.  Do we want a new beginning or will things continue in the same direction?  Our history for this sort of thing suggests the answer.

Sometimes our world leaders do indeed seem to be making strides for peace, but these strides often suffer reversals when conflicts begin anew as they predictably do.  While Presidents, prime ministers and even royalty call for peace, how many are actually plotting retaliations and wars behind the scenes?  In fact, we would all think our leaders were careless and irresponsible if they were not prepared to take up old battles at a moments notice, or begin new ones if need be.

Even the current Pope, revered for his concerns for the poor, has condemned ISIS and violent groups and urged the world not to be indifferent to the suffering they have caused.  If we are not to be indifferent, than what are we to do?  Is it a call for those facing conflict to continue the fight?  Is it a call for outsiders to join in?

There are no easy answers to ISIS, the Taliban, the war lords and terrorist groups. If there was I hope we would have employed them by now.  How about closer to home?  What of the racial profiling, police brutality, gun violence and large prison populations?  What of the street gangs and drug cartels?  What of organized crime and the violence they are willing to commit?  How many marches in the street will it take to rid us of the same old acquaintances we know through the oft-repeated scenes?  Will marches alone bring peace to our homeland?

The sad truth of starting each year with a call for peace on earth is we end the year needing to renew the call again.  Perhaps it would be best if old acquaintances could be forgotten so we could start with a new and clean slate.  However, there are those who can not let go of the hate.  They perpetuate the cultural divide.  They do not wish to give up the fight or extend a hand across the border or the battlefield.  Is this what we were taught?  Did we say “Peace on Earth” when we really meant “Don’t let our enemies get any peace?”  What messages are we really sending when we learn that the greeting card verses are more fiction than fact?

“Should old acquaintance be forgot and never be brought to mind?” Perhaps. And perhaps we need to start believing in the simple verses of seasonal songs and bring peace on earth. The answers to our problems are actually there in many of those simple holiday songs.  They have always been there.  It is contained in a four letter word we are afraid to use, especially when it comes to those we perceive as our enemies.  Do you know that word?  Love, as in Love Thy Neighbor As Thyself. They know on the streets we can not continue to live with the past wrongs, well some streets anyway.

Video: “It had to be said. Warning, Explicit Language”

 

TO CHANGE A LIFE

On my way out the door to the doctor. This is obviously a rerun, but I think it’s appropriate and no time today to do an original. See you all later!!


I had been married about a year. It was probably the thousandth recital of my tale of woe. How I had been beaten, abused, molested, bullied from my earliest memories until my jailbreak at age 17.

That day, my husband looked at me and said: “You’ve told me this before. Often. I hear you. It was bad. Your father belongs in jail. But you don’t live there anymore.It’s time to move on. Let it go. Stop dwelling in the past. Go forward without all that crap hanging all over you.”

the doctor is in

There were a lot of ways I could have answered. I might have gotten angry. I could have pointed out he could take his own advice. But I didn’t. I could have told him it isn’t so easy, letting go of the past, dumping baggage. I didn’t say that, either.

What I said was: “You’re right. I’ll try to do that.”

I did try and eventually, succeeded. I can’t say I never looked back. I looked back plenty. But I never went back into those bad old memories and dwelt there. I never again let those memories dominate me. Getting completely free of all the awful stuff took long years. Half a lifetime and then some. While I worked it out, I didn’t let it control me. It was a piece of advice I needed to hear and heed.

I give to anyone who might need it, the same advice. In the end, no matter how horrible your childhood, no matter how traumatic your life was, unless you want the people who hurt you, molested you, mistreated you, or abused you to rule you, your only choice is to let go and move on.

There is no other way. When you are deep in the morass of painful memories, full of rage and pain at those who hurt you, the suffering you are enduring isn’t hurting them at all. You are hurting only yourself. Haven’t you been hurt enough? Why grant the bad guys power over you? Why would you want to do that?

No one needs to tell me it’s easier said than done. I know that. It wasn’t easy, but I got it done. So can you.

Sometimes, I get to give people who need it, a bit of good advice. That’s my little gift. Maybe I help. Someone, somewhere.


Be the Change – What change, big or small, would you like your blog to make in the world?

BEING HERE AND NOW

Oedipus defeats the Sphinx by correctly guessing the answer to the following riddle:

Sphinx-riddle

As babies, we crawl on hands and feet, using four legs. When we grow up, we stand. Thus, as adults, we stride through life upright, on two legs.  In old age, we are bent over, so in the evening of our lives, we walk with the help of a cane, on three legs.

This was how human life was summed up a couple of thousand years ago and even today, there’s truth in it. But not Truth. Because the riddle’s narrow perspective focuses on the physical changes we experience though life. It leaves out the emotional and intellectual changes … the most important stuff.

As kids, we want to grow up. Children are in a terrible hurry. We race full-tilt towards a future in which anything is possible. We want it all. We want it now. When we get there, we run even faster towards the next goal.

We slow down a bit as we get to the middle of life. We accept responsibility. We load ourselves down with possessions and obligations. We simultaneously discover life doesn’t work as we expected. We see our best plans and fondest hopes dashed on the shoals of random chance, a bad marriage, a boss who doesn’t like us. Or sheer accident derails us. A bad economy makes the profession for which we prepared irrelevant. We discover, in a personal way, that people die. For no good reason. In war, in traffic. Of disease, suicide, stupidity. Unlike Hollywood, real death is usually inglorious and sad.

By the time we reach our forties, we’ve lost a few rounds and are the worse for wear. We’re slower to judge, less sure of the future. The answers of youth are replaced by more questions and the wariness of people who’ve seen a few things. We begin to pay attention to security, realize we are “peaking” professionally and should make the most of whatever opportunities are available.

And then, flash! You are not young. Seventy is not the new forty. Holy shit! Who is that old person in the mirror?

You look around the office. You’re the guy kids come to for advice. Maybe you find no one interested in your experience because “the company is going in a different direction.” People in their forties seem awfully young. Ouch. How did this happen?

We all know, on some level, we will get old. After all, if you don’t get old, you get dead. Alive is the preferred state of being at every age and stage. But no one expects to be really old. We plan to be like we’ve always been. Maybe a few gray hairs. A wiser, more mature version of the person we think we know so well.

Times changes us more than we thought possible. We quit running towards the future and start looking around to see what’s going. Here. Now. This is the future. We made it. The rainy day for which we were saving? We look up to see clouds. Rain is falling.

No more “we’ll do that someday.” Buy the camera you always wanted. Get the car of your dreams. See Paris. It’s your turn. Finally.

None of us plans to die, but we know we could. Time to shift our focus to enjoying what we are, what we have, who we have. While we can. Life is fragile and we are transitory, just passing through. It’s a very different perspective from younger years.

Will the good old days come again? Doubt it. How good were those old days? Do we want them back?

The only time we own is today. Use it well.


Ice, Water, Steam: Weekly Writing Challenge